Leonard Nimoy, the Logical Spock of 'Star Trek,' Dies at 83

Leonard Nimoy - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Leonard Nimoy - H 2015

The cerebral actor played the half-Vulcan, half-human character on and off for nearly 50 years, starred on 'Mission: Impossible' and directed 'Three Men and a Baby.'

Leonard Nimoy, the Hollywood renaissance man who fashioned a long and prosperous career as the supremely logical and cerebral science officer Mr. Spock from Star Trek, has died. He was 83.

The actor tweeted on Jan. 14, 2014, that he had lung disease. “I quit smoking 30 years ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!!” As he always did, Nimoy signed off with the acronym LLAP, short for “Live Long and Prosper,” his Star Trek character’s most celebrated phrase.

Nimoy died Friday at 8:40 a.m. at his home in Bel Air. His granddaughter, Dani, said on Twitter that the cause of death was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Nimoy was a vagabond TV character actor when he made his debut as the somber Spock on NBC’s Star Trek, which debuted on Sept. 8, 1966. He went on to play or voice the half-Vulcan, half-human on live-action shows, cartoons, films, video games, etc. all the way through J.J. Abrams’ movie sequel Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) -- marking an amazing span of nearly 50 years.

“For whatever reason, I projected some kind of quality that people said, ‘OK, he’s a good alien,’ ” he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1999 interview.

In the 1970s, Nimoy replaced Martin Landau in the cast of CBS’ Mission: Impossible series, playing Paris, a master of disguise. And recently, he recurred on the Fox science-fiction drama Fringe as William Bell, the founder of the Massive Dynamic corporation.

His last tweet came on Feb. 22: "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP"

Leonard Simon Nimoy was born on March 26, 1931, in the West End section of Boston; his father owned a barbershop, and his mother was a housewife. After attending Boston College on a scholarship, he moved west and joined the Pasadena Playhouse troupe. When he was 20, he made his first film appearance, in Queen for a Day (1951).

In 1952, Nimoy ventured into sci-fi for the first time with Zombies of the Stratosphere and had the title role in another film released that year, Kid Monk Baroni, a tale about a disfigured street punk turned boxer.

He served in the U.S. Army from 1953-55, then appeared in guest roles on such shows as Highway Patrol, Broken Arrow and Wagon Train (as Native Americans), Dragnet, Sea Hunt, Bonanza, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Combat! and Get Smart.

Before landing the Star Trek role on the Paramount/Desilu TV series that catapulted him to fame — he had come to the attention of series creator Gene Roddenberry at an earlier audition for the producer’s NBC series The Lieutenant Nimoy hadn’t had a job on any TV show or movie that had lasted more than two weeks. Teaming up with William Shatner aboard the USS Enterprise provided him with the first steady work of his career.

For Spock, Nimoy invented the V-shaped Vulcan “Live Long and Prosper” hand gesture and the neck pinch that rendered his enemies unconscious. (He said he devised the latter move because he had grown tired of getting into staged fistfights. “Here’s a chance to cleverly avoid that,” he said in a 2000 interview with The Archive of American Television.)

Nimoy was not happy about wearing pointy ears, but Roddenberry convinced him to do it.

Nimoy received three supporting Emmy Award nominations for playing Spock, one for each season of the show. When he opened a letter to learn that he was nominated the first time, in 1967, he cried.

“I thought, whoa. Wow. What a thrill. Particularly because the nominations are done by your fellow actors, and I thought, ‘They’re getting it; they can see what I’m doing,’ ” he said in the TV Archive interview.

When Star Trek, hamstrung by its Friday night time slot, was canceled in February 1969 after 79 episodes, Nimoy quickly segued to Mission: Impossible, another Paramount show.

By 1975, Star Trek was airing in syndication and had grown into a cultural phenomenon, airing on 160 local stations in the U.S. and in more than 50 countries. Star Trek conventions were springing up and attracting tens of thousands of people, and Paramount was determined to bring back the property in some form.

In 1978, the studio announced at a news conference attended by 200 journalists that two-time Academy Award-winning director Robert Wise would direct a $15 million film adaptation of the series and that Roddenberry would produce.

Nimoy was said to be one of the last of the original castmembers to sign on but denied he was a holdout: “It’s been a complicated relationship with Paramount the last several years. The main reason was that the mail service between here and Vulcan is slow.”

Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in December 1979, grossed $139 million worldwide.

Nimoy returned for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) in which Spock is killed by radiation poisoning and his coffin shot into orbit. “He’s in the box! I’m calling it death, dead, finished,” he told the L.A. Times in 1984.

Nimoy as Spock, of course, wasn’t finished. The character returned in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), both helmed by Nimoy (he only agreed to return to the third film if he were allowed to direct). He also co-wrote the stories for the fourth and six films in the series.

He was back as Spock in two 1991 episodes of the syndicated series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) and provided the uncredited voice of a Spock action figure on a March 2012 episode of The Big Bang Theory titled “The Transporter Malfunction.”

Nimoy earned his fourth career Emmy nomination for playing Morris Meyerson, the husband of Israeli prime minister Golda Meir (Ingrid Bergman), in the 1982 telefilm A Woman Called Golda.

He also appeared opposite Yul Brynner in Catlow (1971) and in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers; voiced a character in the 1998 sci-fi animation series Invasion Earth, co-created by Steven Spielberg and Star Trek film scribe Harve Bennett; and hosted In Search Of, a 1977-82 TV series devoted to mysterious phenomena.

After being impressed with the humor in Star Trek IV, new Disney studio chiefs Jeffery Katzenberg and Michael Eisner, fresh from Paramount, asked Nimoy to step in to direct Three Men and a Baby, a remake of the 1985 Oscar-nominated French film Trois Hommes et un Couffin (Three Men and a Cradle). Coline Serreau, who directed Trois Hommes, had exited the American version because of “creative differences.”

Starring Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg as bachelors scrambling to take care of a child, Three Men and a Baby raked in $167 million in the U.S., and no film grossed more that year.

“I’m finally coming around to do what I was going to do about 25 years ago,” Nimoy, who was enrolled in a directors’ training program at MGM in the early 1960s, said in a 1987 interview.

Nimoy’s feature directorial credits also included The Good Mother (1988), starring Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson; Funny About Love (1990), toplined by Gene Wilder; and Holy Matrimony (1994), with Patricia Arquette.

A deep-thinker, Nimoy authored nine poetry books; a comic book titled PriMortals (developed with writer Isaac Asimov); a 1977 autobiography, I Am Not Spock; and another autobiography in 1995, I Am Spock. He once said that the contradicting titles “baffled the reading audience” but that he “had some fun with that.”

On Broadway, Nimoy starred in Full Circle and Equus and directed The Apple Doesn’t Fall … in 1996. He toured in the early 1980s in the one-man show, Vincent: The Story of a Hero, a critically acclaimed look into Vincent Van Gogh’s life that he wrote, directed and starred in.

During the 1970s, when his time was divided between film, TV and the stage, he recorded 10 narrative albums.

Photography also was a passion; his black-and-white photographs, based on the idea of a spiritual manifestation of the feminine presence of God on Earth, culminated in a 2002 book, Shekhina.

Nimoy was an avid art collector, and he and wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, established The Nimoy Foundation, a national grant program to support the work of contemporary artists.

In 2001, the couple donated $1 million for the renovation of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. A 200-seat multimedia theater inside the landmark bears Leonard Nimoy’s name.

What was it about outer space and Nimoy? In a 1986 interview, he was asked to explain the ageless appeal of Star Trek.

“I think there’s something to seeing these very professional people helping each other to solve a problem and in the idea that mankind is humane and will do the right thing eventually to each other and to others,” Nimoy said. “And we all like the idea that there are great mysteries still to be explored.”

Duane Byrge contributed to this report.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4